Anybody who hasn’t been under a rock for the past couple of days is undoubtedly familiar with the story about the North Carolina attorney general dropping all the charges against the three Duke lacrosse team members who were falsely accused of raping and beating an exotic dancer who was hired to perform at a team party.
This case holds some valuable lessons, both for those involved and for those watching it unfold in the news.
Richard Bach once said something that kind of sums up the first lesson:
Live never to be ashamed if anything you say or do is published around the world, even if what is said is not true.
In other words, live your life in such a way that a lie can’t stick to you. A lie with a hollow center is a fragile thing, easily crushed. But one of error’s favorite tricks is to construct a lie around a single grain of truth, much as an oyster creates a pearl, because the presence of a small amount of truth lends credibility to a lie and cloaks the whole mess in ambiguity, making it difficult to separate fact from fiction.
In the case of the Duke lacrosse players, it appears that the district attorney heard “stripper,” “party,” and “underage drinking” and conjured up images of a malevolent Animal House.
I’m not judging these young men, and I’m not for one instant suggesting that they deserved what happened to them. They didn’t. But I think it’s safe to assume that had their social lives involved cappuccino and poetry slams instead of booze and strippers, they wouldn’t have had to deal with any of this nonsense.
Their experience should serve as a warning to the rest of us: The best protection against false accusations is to conduct ourselves in a manner that leaves absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind about what kind of people we are. If we’re known for being decent, honorable, classy, and tasteful, it will be virtually impossible for anyone to pin outrageous lies on us.
The second lesson from all this is harder to grasp. It has to do with the delicate but extremely important balance between justice and affection.
We’re not talking about huggy, cuddly, emotional affection. We’re talking about separating a person’s actions from her real identity as a child of God and making sure our own decisions are motivated by a genuine desire to be just — that is, fair — rather than allowing emotion to drive our actions. (This type of affection is synonymous with terms like “compassion” and “mercy.”)
The North Carolina attorney general demonstrated the union of justice and affection when he declined to file criminal charges against the woman who falsely accused the Duke students. Recent reports suggest that neither her mental health nor her grasp on reality is very solid, and it appears that her accusations were a symptom of mental illness rather than a malicious attempt to ruin these men’s lives. The AG recognized that illness is probably best handled with treatment, not punishment, and he had compassion for this woman and her apparent problems.
Will the men hurt by her false claims be as quick to forgive and let her doctors deal with her? I don’t know. I’ve been in the position of having to decide how to respond to someone who lied about me and stabbed me in the back, and my heart goes out to these guys as they grapple with the question of whether to sue this woman for her lies.
Regardless of what they decide to do next, I hope that they will let Principle — Love — guide their decisions. When we listen patiently and follow our highest sense of right, we get better results than when we allow emotion to cloud our judgment. The prosecutor in the case is learning that the hard way. Hopefully the men hurt by his mistake will learn from it as they begin to pick up the pieces and go on with their lives.
In the meantime, I remain deeply grateful that the innocent parties were exonerated.